Excerpt: Dragon Magic

“You fucked someone else,” Mahzan said in disbelief, feeling as though he had just been stabbed, the pain sharp and white-hot. “In our home.”

Kuzey sneered. “Your home, maybe. Never mine.”

“Ours. I have always said this is your home too.” His skin burned as anger rushed through him. Mahzan lunged, threw a fist, and caught Kuzey dead on the nose. Kuzey gave a muffled cry, blood streaming, drenching his clothes, as he dropped to his knees.

Mahzan resisted the urge to hit him again, though mostly only because his hand hurt. He shook it out, grimacing at the blood on his knuckles. “I gave up much for you. I kept my promise. Even the position you were so angry about, I was going to turn down because of you. I had decided you were right: we should leave the city. That is what I was going to tell you tonight. But you—you fucked someone else! In our home, in our bed! I can still smell it! I have my faults, but I kept my vows. Get out of my house. If I ever see you again, I will kill you.”

Turning around, he picked up the food he had brought home for them and threw it against the wall. Then he stormed back out into the night, yanking his cloak back up around his shoulders, pulling the hood down low.

He stopped at the alleyway near the corner and held out a coin. “Give me one.” The coin was taken, and a small paper packet was pressed into his hand. Mahzan walked on without another word, unwrapping the paper and pulling out one of the pungent, potent cigarettes inside. Drawing matches from his tunic, he lit the cigarette and took a long drag, then another.

By the time he reached the intersection that led to either the harbor or the market, the familiar, floating buzz had fallen over him, dulling his anger and pain. He had missed the taste and feel of the mist-leaf. It was another pleasure he had given up for Kuzey. Well, no longer. He had tried to be what Kuzey wanted and had never succeeded.

He took another drag, breathing in the smoke, relishing the calm it brought. Great Dragon burn him for a fool. Tears threatened, making him feel that much more stupid. Desperate to avoid the self-pity and despondence he knew were lurking, he kept pulling at the cigarette, uncaring if he made himself sick by morning.

He should have known better. But he wouldn’t make that mistake again. He was finished. Never again would he be stupid enough to love—

 

 

—Sule scowled at the halfwit who had run into him and lay sprawled in a heap on the dirty street. His gaze fell on the half-smoked mist-leaf lying next to him. He rested a hand lightly on the hilt of his sword, fingers twitching, gripping tightly as the words played over and over again in his head.

“You’re no daughter of mine! Take your perversion and get out!”

“What are you doing out on the streets at so late an hour?” Sule asked coldly. When the man did not reply, he snapped, “Answer in the name of the King!”

“Fuck you,” the man slurred as he stood up, absently wiping blood from his scratched cheek. Sule felt a flash of guilt—but then the man flourished a medallion that banished any hint of softer emotion. Sule glared at it: the Great Dragon curled around a crescent moon, made from silver and gold, with a bronze, frowning mask overlaying all. Of course he would run into a royal jester in the dead of night in a part of the city no one had cause to walk around at so late an hour. “Royal fool,” he spat.

The jester chuckled, but it wasn’t a nice sound. “We are both royal fools. I simply make people misbehave, and you make them behave.”

“I am not in a patient mood tonight, fool,” Sule said. “Do not test me.”

“You should not have knocked me over,” the jester replied, eyes glowing silver.

Just what he needed. A fool with mind magic. Sule summoned fire in one hand, the other reaching for his sword.

They both froze at the sound of footsteps right before a priest came into view and—

 

 

—Cemal tamped down on his panic. “What have we here?” No one was supposed to be out so late. No one ever took this street at this hour. He had chosen his path with care, Dragon eat them. At least the light of the street lamp they stood beneath did not penetrate as far as where he stood. He had come too far to fail now.

He almost murmured one of the prayers that had been drilled into him over the years, but he always felt ashamed of himself for clinging to such things, given the pretenses under which he had become a priest.

If these two saw the bloodstains on his robes, the traces on his hands that he could not seem to scrub away no matter how hard he tried—well, he had little reason to continue living now, but he did not want to die. “Peace, brothers.” He eyed the two men critically, and noted the one was lost in mist-leaf and the other exceedingly drunk.

Sighing because he could not risk taking them to a temple or poorhouse the way he should, Cemal tried to think of what he could do to both fulfill his priestly obligations and get away with no one the wiser of the murder he had just committed. “What troubles you, my brothers?”

“Him!” they both snarled, then glared at each other.

“Children!” Cemal barked, shaking his robes, only then remembering he had removed the bells that should have adorned the bottom so that he would not make any noise traveling through the city after curfew.

The drunk—a royal soldier with the badge of one who worked in the castle—sneered and shoved away from the other man. “I am wanting to hit someone tonight, priest. You will do as well as the fool.”

“You will not find me an easy man to strike,” Cemal said softly. He could feel the knife in his hand all over again, see the flash of metal in candlelight right before he killed the bastard. Could feel the blood, hot and sticky as it sprayed him. He had not expected the sounds a dying man made. Had forgotten how horrible the stench of death could be.

The soldier drew closer, and Cemal braced himself, calling up his magic. After murder, a fight was nothing. He started to lunge at the same time as the soldier, then realized he could not move.

Movement caught the corner of his eye, and he shivered with genuine fear as he saw—

 

 

—Binhadi looked over the three men as he moved slowly into the light of a nearby street lamp, his steps loud in the sudden silence. When the three men tried to struggle, he strengthened the grip of his shadows, amazed at how easily the shadows obeyed, as though eager to hold fast to the three men.

Shaking off the strange, moon-induced impression, he said, “All of you are out after curfew, and I doubt you have permission. Not a one of you is fit to be around other people. When I release my shadows, you will each return to where you should be. I will accept no protests. Am I understood?”

“Yes, my lord,” the men all said.

Binhadi released them slowly, watching for mischief. When they’d gone, he reached up to touch the pendant resting in the hollow of his throat. It glowed as he engraved the memory, not certain why he did, but trusting his instinct.

Alone again, he walked on, searching for the exhaustion that would banish all else for a time.

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